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J Hist Neurosci. 2014;23(2):140-59. doi: 10.1080/0964704X.2013.840751. Epub 2014 Apr 3.

Broca and Charcot's research on Jacques Inaudi: the psychological and anthropological study of a mental calculator.

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  • 1a Paris Descartes University , Paris , France.


In the nineteenth century, French scientific institutions became interested in young "mental calculators," arithmetical prodigies able to quickly and accurately perform complex mental calculations. The first scientists to study mental calculators were phrenologists who sought to prove the existence of a calculating organ in the frontal lobe. Paul Broca introduced one such mental calculator, Jacques Inaudi, to the Anthropological Society of Paris in 1880. Broca attributed extraordinary faculty for mental calculation to memory functioning (the psychological hypothesis) rather than physiological difference (the phrenological hypothesis). In 1892, prominent French Academy of Sciences member Jean-Martin Charcot produced a noteworthy study of Inaudi on the organization's behalf. Charcot observed that Inaudi called upon auditory memory rather than visual memory in his mental calculations, unlike most mental calculators who preceded him. Like Broca, Charcot was skeptical of the phrenological hypothesis, though he noted that Inaudi's skull was markedly plagiocephalic. Interestingly, anthropological examination of Inaudi is consistent with the themes of modern cognitive neuroscience. Thus, Charcot seems to have anticipated present research on the localization of mental calculation and memory for numbers. 1. (1)The Academy of Sciences, founded in 1666 by Louis XIV (1638-1715) with the goal of contributing to the advancement and application of the sciences in France, was one of the earliest European scientific institutions. As a prestigious society, it played an active role in defining scientific and technological research policy as well as drafting and publishing official reports.


Broca; Charcot; Inaudi; memory; mental calculator; phrenology; psychology

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